Let’s take a quick survey: Raise your hand if you think gardening is a spectator sport.

I don’t see many hands raised, but that’s OK because it’s sort of a trick question. It might sound surprising, but I believe gardening is legitimate for spectators, as well as active gardeners busily tending their vegetables, flowers beds, fruit trees, landscaping and lawns.

In past columns, I coined the phrase “thought gardening,” in which we garden in the theater of the mind while reading about plants, viewing gardening online, attending gardening programs and going on tours.

Our active gardening might be limited by time constraints, available space, age or other factors. Whether we call it spectator gardening or thought gardening, thinking about the activity or enjoying what others have done brings enjoyment, inspiration and knowledge.

Garden tours offer ideas for trying different plants such as gomphrena. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Garden tours offer ideas for trying different plants such as gomphrena. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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Tours and horticultural events are great opportunities for spectator gardening. Such an event is happening next Thursday, Sept. 5, at the campus of North Dakota State University, and we’re all invited.

NDSU maintains a large display garden of annual and perennial flowers on the west edge of campus, plus vegetable and fruit research plots. The university’s displays are also home to the largest collection of day lilies owned by a public institution in the United States.

During the event, under the big tent near the parking area, NDSU Horticulturist Esther McGinnis will demonstrate how to build a terrarium. Photographer Bob Splichal will present a 30-minute lecture on macro photography. A 45-minute trailer tour of fruit plots will include researchers describing tips for locally grown edible crops. A 60-minute vegetable plot tour will provide ideas for drip irrigation in home gardens.

Visitors will be taken on walking tours of the extensive NDSU floral research and display gardens. Bring the kids to learn about plant pollination, using a common snack as a fun teaching tool. Bring your gardening questions to the Ask-a-Master-Gardener Booth for information on topics ranging from houseplants to weed control.

Recent award winners like South Pacific Orange Canna can be seen at the North Dakota State University Display Garden. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Recent award winners like South Pacific Orange Canna can be seen at the North Dakota State University Display Garden. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

I’m looking forward to the inspirational evening, and to get the most from tours such as these, let’s try the following:

  • If we’re attending mostly for enjoyment, simply absorb the beauty and add any information gained to our mental storehouse of knowledge.
  • For annual flowers, note types that seem especially vigorous and strong flowering, especially those that have remained nice late into the season.
  • Look for types or cultivars you haven’t grown before. It’s always fun to try new things.
  • Bring along paper and pen that can fit in your pocket or purse. At the time, it might seem like we’ll remember the cultivar name of that snazzy new zinnia we like, but I usually forget by the time I reach my parked car.
  • When touring fruit research plots, take particular note of recommended varieties, pruning techniques or other methods of successful fruit growing in our region.
  • Vegetable research plots can offer a wealth of information on disease control, cultivar selection and improved growing techniques.
  • Ask questions. The interplay with researchers and information specialists is always interesting.
  • The time is well-spent if we learn one new growing tip and discover a hot new cultivar or two to add to our flower bed, garden or landscape.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Don Kinzler's Growing Together columns

If you go

What: Plants, Local Foods and Outdoor Spaces gardening tour

When: 4-7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5

Where: NDSU Research and Demonstration Gardens, corner of 12th Avenue. and 18th Street North, Fargo

Info: For a complete schedule and list of events, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/mastergardener/events/outdoor-spaces-event

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at kinzlerd@casscountynd.gov or call 701-241-5707.